Dark, dingy but full of hope

Ride a local train in Mumbai and you can see the best and worst of living conditions in the city at one go. The spanking glass and concrete high rises contrast with the old crumbly Mumbai in a haphazard tapestry of modern shapes and makeshift rooftops. At least that’s what I was thinking on my way to the Yusuf Meherally Vidyalaya, a school run by a charitable trust by the same name. The much touted skyline of our city may show the face of a new India being rebuilt, but also has within its innards, the hunger, greed, lust and ambition of its slum dwellers, eager to cash in on its continuously rising real estate prices.

I was on a volunteering job for Yusuf Meherally Centre when I reached this sprawling school compound in the prime locality of Tardeo in South Mumbai. As I gathered from the secretary of the NGO, builders have eyed this property besides lobbying for its demolition. The school provides much-needed space for children from nearby slums to get away from their oppressive home life. Here, they receive free education besides a space to play and dream about a better life. The trustees of the school have successfully opposed moves made by builders with political connections. The school provisions such as computers, furniture etc are supported by donations made by corporates so far, but its far from enough.

I wouldn’t dare send my children here but it’s there for the very same reason: to nourish and engage the minds of kids. The worn out spaces in these images seem to hold the aspirations of many generations of underprivileged children in a timeless warp. They’re a reflection of what I understand as the parallel reality of Mumbai. I was drawn by the interiors and the silence of an otherwise noisy space on a day off for the school.


The school has a ghetto like feel, though it was founded on the principles of friendship, freedom and equality as envisioned by its founder Yusuf Meherally.


It’s understandable why the soft board is devoid of life. Either the kids are irreverent or it’s too worn out to be useful.


The school appears to be in dire need for funds that don’t seem very forthcoming in an economy grappling with tedious issues of inflation and slow growth.


The lessons are discharged by a bunch of teachers who are familiar with the politics of teaching slum kids.


The art teacher who had his arm in a sling was a proud man telling me of the many talents of his pupils.


A picture of hope in the form of an info graphic about the tasty and abundant Indian coconut. Hand crafted!




The office at the entrance of the school is full of memorabilia from another age.


The hand painted portraits of Indian freedom fighters lend a old-worldly charm lost to most private schools. It’s rare to see portraits of pioneering Indian mathematicians and not Mahatma Gandhi.


The kids and school admin seemed quite indifferent to the waste that surrounds their back yard.


The administrator who maintains the records of children is happy to be employed. She said I should be careful as there is an element of rowdiness and drug abuse after school hours.


The watchman was visibly happy to be photographed, “My job here gives me self-respect” he said to me. I asked if he liked kids more than his uniform. “I love being in school” was his response.


Shadab Ansari lives nearby, loves life but doesn’t like it when adults and teachers shout. His mind is full of brilliant ideas he claimed, and wants to go to America to study further someday.


I want to learn to fly.

If you’re interested in extending support in any form please do visit this website to find out about the various ways in which you can. Thanks for taking a look anyway.


About shabnamphoto

I'm a graphic artist with a passion for photography. I like to tell a story with my pictures. Sometimes a picture may speak on its own and at other times it may need an explanation. I'm intrigued by the ordinariness of life and enjoy documenting my life in the light and shadow of what surrounds me. Be it people, landscape, flowers, architecture or birds, the camera helps me see what I wouldn't with my naked eye.
Image | This entry was posted in Documentary, Photo essay and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

97 Responses to Dark, dingy but full of hope

  1. dayumnnn these are good!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. soulcurrynrice says:

    Nice photos..true to life..


  3. If I understand correctly, the “freedom fighters” in your tenth photograph are mathematicians. The one on the left looks like he could be Ramanujan. Is that correct? Who is the man on the right?


    • shabnamphoto says:

      I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to the portrait on the right, one of the Maharashtrian leaders who helped set up the school, will find out and let you know as I seem to have forgotten!


    • Shubham Raut says:

      First of all I’m proud of the thing that it’s my school where i brought up playing and studying. 1st portrait on right the big one is of Yusuf Meherally’s Mumbai’s 1st mayor and freedom fighter after the school is named. 2nd on small one is of co-founder Mr. Tawde.


  4. Madhu says:

    Shabnam, congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!!! Well deserved 🙂


  5. Imperfectto says:



  6. elmediat says:

    Splendid photo essay.


  7. agnestadia says:

    very informative and served as call for everyone to value education….. best of all, in India, there’s Bollywood….. not-to-missed movies…. like three idiots, like stars on earth and ghajini


  8. Povonte says:

    Enjoyed your post very much! Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed


  9. siddharthajoshi says:

    Wow fantastic shots Shabnam…love them totally!


  10. Fighting for a better life of others expands your soul. God bless you!


  11. lilymm says:

    Reblogged this on PHOTOBLOG and commented:
    A beautiful contradiction of colour vibrancy and ruins.


  12. mukhamani says:

    Thank you for sharing. Mumbai is a different world. I was there for three years long back.


  13. beingeternal says:

    Every inch of detail you scribbled and you captured is damn realistic.


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